A long line of cars stretched the length of the block. With every green light, the cars inched forward. The two-lane street was at a standstill. In typical New York fashion, horns blared and people careened their necks out the window to shout their disapproval, because, for New Yorkers, yelling solves everything. I too grew impatient. I had stopped at the grocery store where I purchased 4 gallons of Turkey Hill ice cream. The fear of losing my newly acquired Double Dunker ice cream caused my hand to grace my horn. As my car crept closer to the light, I saw the culprit standing next to his car with a perplexed expression. His right hand gripped a crowbar, and he bent down to take off the lug nuts. He removed the lug nuts as I continued to watch him attempt to change the tire and thanked God it wasn’t me. Then, the word, “idiot” escaped my mouth. The man had set the crowbar down and was trying to pull the tire off without jacking it up.
Many years ago, I was a high schooler and owned a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro. That would normally sound cool, but the year was 1992. The Camaro was way past its glory days and rust had infected the car. There was a hole in the floor covered with Bondo and a floor mat. The hole was so big, my friends and I lit smoke bombs inside the car while driving and tossed them through the hole like Batman trying to evade Joker’s henchman.
Even though my car’s exterior had seen better days, the V8 engine that rested inside ran great. Often, I would pull up next to a muscle car at a stoplight and rev up the engine. The light would turn green and off our cars would race down the street. Most of the time, my vehicle arrived at the light first. Even though the car had a plethora of problems, I loved that car.
One day after my shift at a grocery store ended, I walked out to my car and noticed a slashed right rear tire. After expressing some colorful language, I popped the trunk open and pulled out my jack and a spare. I slipped the crowbar into the jack and found a solid place to lift the car. Feeling proud of my ability to lift a car into the air, I struggled with changing the tire. Luckily for me, a butcher from the store walked out to his car and offered to give me a hand. He made quick work and removed the tire and provided instruction on the best way to change a tire. My grandfather had retired from Ford Motor Company and my dad worked on the factory lines, but this was the first time I observed while receiving a detailed explanation. And it’s a good thing because, during one of my many races, I must have infuriated someone. During the summer of 92’, I experienced 7 slashed tires. I became so good at changing tires; I should have considered a career in a NASCAR pit crew.
With ice cream melting in the back of my Kia Sorrento, I watched the man struggle. While judging the man’s attempt, the butcher kneeling on the ground popped into my memory. Reluctantly, I put on my flashers and guided my car behind his Toyota Corolla. I got out and asked him if he needed help. Without hesitation, he placed the crowbar into my hand and thanked me. I asked him where his jack was, and he said, “isn’t that it?” I stared at him trying not to feel intellectually superior. I replied, “no, this is a crowbar. A jack… well, a jack jacks up the car. Lifts it up. Do you have anything else?” We went to his trunk and lo-and-behold, there was a very nice jack sitting there. “Oh, that’s what it is,” he blurted. I grabbed the jack out of the trunk and placed it under the edge of the car near the tire. I was about to give it a crank when I asked, “is the car in park?” He looked at the car and I said more clearly, “Is the parking brake on.” “Oh,” he said and ran around and stepped on the parking brake. Within seconds, the tire was off the ground. I removed the tire and placed the spare on the car and screwed the lug nuts on by hand. As I twisted the nuts, I looked up and the man’s eyes drifted to the long line of cars. Remembering I was taught how to change a tire, got his attention and told him the nuts needed to be tightened, but not too tight until the tire was back on the ground. I put the jack into reverse and the car slowly came down. I tightened the lug nuts and popped the rim back on. He thanked me and I told him he should check the tire pressure right away. We shook hands and I was off driving my vehicle and slightly melted Double Dunker ice cream down the road.
The young man with the flat tire does not know, many years ago, I too struggled with changing a tire until a kind butcher was willing to help a kid out. Hopefully, the guy will remember my instructions on how to change a tire and maybe he’ll pay the task forward. I’m also hoping he remembered to release the parking brake.
Here are my tire changing tips:
1. Make sure you are at a safe location to change the tire. If not and if possible, drive the car to an area where you can safely change the tire. Never change a tire if you are on a hill and always make sure the ground is level.
2. Put the parking brake on.
3. If you have any type of wood or blocks, place them by the wheels to enforce the car from rolling.
4. Find a solid spot near the tire to raise the car. Some vehicles have special places on the car that are marked. Check the owner’s manual for the best spot.
5. Before cranking up the car, loosen the lug nuts. Do not remove them.
6. Crank the car up slowly and observe the car to make sure there are no weird creaking noises.
7. Give the car a little wiggle to see if everything is secure. You don’t want to be removing the tire and have the jack shift and the car come crashing down.
8. Remove the lug nuts and put them in a secure spot. Then, remove the tire and replace it.
9. Tighten the lug nuts, but not too tight.
10. Bring the car back down and tighten the lug nuts.
11. Get the tire pressure checked right away and put the right amount of air into the tire. Also, get that spare fixed. If you have a flat because you made some enemies, chances are you’ll be changing the tire again.